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Anaheim Court Case Aftermath

Posted by Chris Emami on September 5, 2012

OC Insider beat me to the punch but I wanted to follow-up a bit on the Anaheim court case and the aftermath from the judge’s ruling. The case itself had 2 major points that were being argued:

1) Steve Chavez Lodge was using the name Chavez to simply try to increase votes he would receive from the latino community. This part of the lawsuit would force him to change his name on the ballot to Steve Lodge.  (12:37 AM Nguyen correction: the legal point being argued is whether or not Lodge is entitled to his birth name of Chavez, based on whether or not he is known by that name.)

2) Steve Chavez Lodge cannot used the designation of retired policeman because he is currently employed as a businessman/consultant.

Chris Nguyen and I had discussed the case and we actually predicted the outcome being what it was. Lode was allowed to keep the name Chavez. However, he also was forced to change his designation to businessman because in order to be retired under election law you must be at least 55 years old.  (12:37 AM Nguyen correction: Lodge was actually forced to change it to businessman because he had “another more recent, intervening principal profession, vocation or occupation” as he currently works at Hill International as Director of Public Affairs.)

With all of the anger and negative press with the police my thought is that Chavez-Lodge might have actually benefitted from being placed on the ballot as a businessman instead.

I sent over 3 questions over to Cynthia Ward after the final decision in order to get her take on what could be considered a substantial victory for Chavez-Lodge:

1) You won the challenge of his designation, however, do you think it benefits him to run as businessman and not policeman considering all the tension with police in Anaheim?

I do not think it is the tension of being associated with Police work in general that would be a negative for Lodge, at least not associated with APD. After all, he did nail the public safety union endorsements, both Fire and Police, and they are likely to do plenty of mail reminding voters of his ex-cop background even if the ballot does not allow for the wording.

I think the law enforcement image Lodge needs to live down at this point is his own record as a Santa Ana cop. Plenty of blogs scooped me while I was embargoed, and have revealed public records showing Lodge involved in court cases not as an expert witness, but as a defendant, including an excessive force case in which the victim was awarded half a million dollars in punitive damages for injuries suffered while apparently being arrested for the heinous crime of jaywalking. That is going to be harder to live down than an association with cops in general.

I think a lot of Anaheim voters understand that while there are bad apples in every batch, in large part the APD is staffed with professional, decent people, trying hard to protect and serve, under a Chief that is greatly respected throughout the city. It may shock you to know that Chief John Welter is greatly respected in the neighborhoods like Ponderosa, where unrest has been kept to a minimum because the residents trust Welter, and when trouble broke with a Police shooting of a gang member, the residents fell back on that trust rather than follow the trouble-making team of Joanne Sosa and Lorri Galloway, who together with Yesenia Rojas appear to be largely responsible for riling up the Anna Drive residents and creating much of the unrest.

That is a long way of saying that I do not think Anaheim voters have a problem with APD or Police in general, but they are very suspect of anyone tagged with a “bad cop” label, and Lodge is going to have to live down the recent allegations on the blogs, which are certain to hit the papers, especially with the media attention he seems to have ginned up.

2) What is your take on the judge’s ruling to allow him to keep the name Chavez and adding the name Albert?

I have nothing but respect for Judge Charles Margines, I did some research on his work as soon as I knew we drew his courtroom, and he seems not only fair, but incredibly intelligent, and quite a bit witty. He not only refused to allow the last minute “evidence” that Lodge’s lawyer tried to present, he seemed to almost mock Baric for trying. Margines pointed out the absurdity of the argument that they “just received” these documents, asking why Mr. Lodge did not have his own personal papers ready prior to court. It was a really informative session to watch, I would actually go back to his courtroom just to watch him work, he takes no bull from either side.

The ruling ultimately came down to a recollection from the Judge’s own memory banks, which none of us could have foreseen. Lodge’s case had bounced from “it is the name on my birth certificate” to “I never legally changed my name to Lodge” (an oddity since he presumably has a Social Security number, Driver’s License, etc. in that name, but I digress) and finally landed on “I have testified in court as Steven Albert Chavez Lodge.”  Baric even argued that Lodge had testified before Judge Margines himself, although I did not see evidence that he provided a case number or transcript to verify that. But that last argument seemed to strike a chord.  It was Judge Margines himself that recalled Lodge testifying in his own courtroom years ago, and he believed it was as Chavez-Lodge.

Now, to be fair, recalling that a Police officer used a name once years ago while testifying in a Santa Ana courtroom as a Santa Ana cop may not establish that he is widely known by that name in the community in which he is now running for office. And again, Lodge and his lawyer did not produce the evidence of that, beyond a verbal statement. But the lightbulb went off over the head of a Judge I greatly admire, and I can respect that decision without argument.

On the way home my husband and I were discussing the potential repercussions radiating outward beyond the campaign, had the Judge decided against Lodge. If Lodge had testified in court against a criminal, even once, as Chavez-Lodge, and had an officer of the court then ruled that it did not appear to be his legal name, the ramifications for opening case loads on technicalities may have been more than any of us bargained for. Given a choice between letting Lodge use the name he has requested, or potentially opening a Pandora’s Box of legal challenges in criminal court, he can have the name. Gladly.

It appears the “Albert” was added because the question of what Lodge calls himself was so completely up in the air, and the Judge may have wanted to cover all his bases. When asked what his client’s legal name was, attorney Steve Baric insisted it was Steven Albert Chavez, (no Lodge.) That got the Judge’s attention. Since so many options were presented about what Lodge calls himself depending on day and conditions, I think the judge threw it all onto the ballot just to be sure we got it all. Kind of like throwing pasta at the wall.

3) Will you still attempt to get Lodge to pay your attorney’s fees?

My attorney had included that in the original Petition as an option, should we prevail, and I have not discussed it with him yet. But unless I am mistaken, I think we split the decision equally. I certainly have no interest in being punitive, no matter what Lodge has said about me.

Honestly, I just want the nastiness to stop. This was never meant to be personal, I think people get very emotional when they hear the word “lawsuit” they think damages and awards of vast sums of money, and that is not what this was. The suit is the only mechanism for stopping the process of the City Clerk and Registrar of Voters from moving forward with the wording they are given by the candidates. As you know, once the filing period is closed even the candidates themselves cannot change the wording they have submitted, so a Petition to the Registrar and Clerk is the only way to challenge the system. These challenges are common; they happen all over the country in every election cycle, and they are usually handled without the toxic sludge that has been polluting the internet since this hit.

In fact, the case just ahead of ours was yet another Petition, in which a candidate in RSM was being challenged with the claim that they had used their ballot statement to disparage other candidates. If ever a case could become negative it would be that one, but it did not get the national attention we got because the candidate did not escalate the arguments into the public eye like Lodge seems to have done. I honestly wondered where the negativity came from, and then noticed that Lodge was accompanied to court by Dave Ellis. It explained a lot. So while I think we both came out equally, I suspect this is far from over, no matter where the attorney’s fees end up.

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